For most employers, profanity and showing up late are grounds for instant disqualification in an interview. But there are also more subtle ways to raise a red flag in a hiring manager’s mind. Some common phrases that you think might be harmless, or even helpful, can, in fact, make employers question whether you’re really the right person for the job.
If you want to wow your interviewer, make sure to avoid the following six phrases. While you may have the best intentions, you don’t want the person you’re interviewing with to get the wrong impression.
1. “I couldn’t stand my last company.”
You may have worked at a genuinely bad company, but whining about it or trash talking them will not earn you points with an interviewer.
“When asked about a former boss or colleagues, never disparage them,” says Roy Cohen, career coach and author of The Wall Street Professional’s Survival Guide. Doing so “will raise questions about whether that is how you will view the interviewer if, at some point, you don’t get your way.”
After all, if you talk smack about your current company, who’s to say you won’t do the same at this company? Rather than talking about what you dislike about your employer, talk about how excited you are about the company you’re interviewing with, whether it’s the culture, mission or work that gets you excited.
2. “I’ll do anything.”
You might think that offering to take on any challenge the company can throw at you would be a good thing, but truthfully, it sounds a little desperate. Remember, interviews aren’t just for showing that you want the job, but also proving that you’re the right person for the job. In other words, you shouldn’t just be willing to do something — you should be knowledgeable and passionate about what you do.
“Tell your interviewer what you are most comfortable doing or what your background is in, or even things you haven’t done before but are interested in doing,” recommends DW Bobst, CEO of Trend HR. “No one wants to hire the short-term person who is just going to leave. Make sure you leave your interviewer with the impression that you are in it for the long haul.”
3. “I’m a self-motivated, quick learner with leadership skills.”
These are all good things in theory, but throwing out a bunch of buzzwords like this without any evidence to back them up is hollow.
“It signals a lack of authenticity and reliance on superficial sound bites. Interviewers tune you out — they’ve heard it all before. What does it even mean?” asks Laura MacLeod, leadership coach and creator of From The Inside Out Project®. “If you want to use this, you’ll have to elaborate [with] specific examples of problem-solving, collaboration, managing conflict. Express it and explain it rather than just name it.”
For example, if you want to show off your leadership skills, talk about how you stepped up for a group project. Provide as much detail as you can about what you did, how you did it and why it made a difference.
4. “No, I don’t know how to do that.”
Odds are, you won’t already be familiar with every single task of a given job. And that’s okay — most of the time, recruiters and hiring managers won’t expect you to know everything, especially if you’re at a more junior level. But there’s a right way and wrong way to express that you don’t know how to do something. Saying “no” flat-out makes it sound like you’re not only completely clueless, but also unwilling to learn.
“Instead, answer the question with a qualifying response. For example, if asked whether you have worked with a software that you [have] no experience with, you should talk about the similar software that you do have knowledge about and how they relate to the software in question,” says Patrick Lynch, President for the southeast region of talent and transition firm CMP.
You can also give an example of a time you learned a different tool or technology quickly to make it clear that you’ll be able to get up to speed in no time.
5. “So what exactly does your company do?”
When an interviewer asks if you have any questions for them, it’s an opportunity for you to demonstrate how well-informed you are — not a chance to ask questions that you could have easily figured out on your own with just a few minutes of research.
“This question is a dead giveaway that you didn’t do any homework on the company or their products,” says Elizabeth Becker, Client Partner and Career Expert at recruiting firm PROTECH. “Instead, use questions as a way to demonstrate you did some homework.”
For example, you might do some research on a company and discover that they primarily target small to medium businesses (SMBs). In that case, you might want to say something like “I found it interesting that your software is targeted to the SMB space — do you have any plans to launch enterprise solutions as well?” Becker suggests.
6. “I want a job that pays X.”
Salary and benefits are important, and often play a large role in whether or not you decide to accept a company’s offer. But bringing up details of the salary or perks you want unprompted and early in the interview process is a bit presumptuous.
When you don’t know exactly what a company will pay for a position, play it safe at first. “Give the impression that you are flexible on compensation rather than make demands,” Bobst says. If you make it to the final interview rounds, they will let you know what the job will pay.
Conversely, they may ask you what your salary expectations are. In that case, don’t just throw out a number — figure out what you really deserve.
“If you don’t know what pay you are qualified for, you should consider the amount of experience [you] have and what industry [you] are interested in working in and do a little research,” Bobst suggests. Start with Glassdoor’s Know Your Worth™ calculator, which offers personalized salary estimates based on your job title, location, years of experience and more. That way, you can assess whether you’re getting a fair deal.